“Beef” is the story of two people who feel like they have had to “take the high road” too many times in their lives. They’re done with it. Danny finds Amy first and does something awful in her house. Amy realizes what’s happening and escalates the action by Yelp-bombing his business and then basically catfishing his brother. However, “Beef” smartly isn’t satisfied with merely being an escalating series of horrible decisions like you might expect. Without spoiling, it seems at times that Danny and Amy are actually going to put things behind them and find happiness, the former in a Korean church community and the latter when she finally starts getting the professional respect she’s deserved. But those earlier decisions aren’t done rippling.
Steven Yeun is quite simply one of the best actors of his generation, and he makes so many fascinating decisions here. He understands the body language of a man who is tired of losing but can’t stop making bigger and bigger mistakes in an effort to win. He’s like a gambler who thinks increasing his bet will somehow change his luck. However, Yeun doesn’t succumb to the clichés of what could have just been an angry-young-incel part. He shades this character with decency, regret, and relatable exhaustion without over-playing Danny’s flaws. So many actors would have leaned on Danny’s villainy, but it’s the grounding of the two characters that keep “Beef” from going off the rails—at least until the penultimate episode, which gets a little hard-to-swallow and takes some major decisions away from Danny and Amy in a way that doesn’t feel thematically rich.
Wong matches Yeun beat-for-beat from first episode to last. It’s easily the best acting work of her career, and I hope it opens dozens of doors for her in terms of collaboration. About halfway through the season, I started to think about all the filmmakers I’d like to see work with her, and most of them were legends. On paper, Amy could have been a shrill, unrelatable careerist, a plot device for the other half of the show, but the creators and Wong never let that happen. Amy makes some crazy decisions, but Wong sells them. We believe them because of the work she’s done to give this character back story and honest human emotion.